July 1862; Brutal murder in Sutton Poyntz, Weymouth.

Tonight being All Hallows Eve, and with the goblins, witches and ghouls flitting the streets, terrorising one and all in the dark night air, I thought tonight might be one for a brutal murder story.

It all came about on a summers day in July of 1862.

Down in the village of Sutton (Sutton Poyntz) lived a what had once been normal working family in one of the old row of cottages.

Head of the family was  Richard Cox, a man in his late 60’s, who was old before his time, crippled and no longer able to work regularly, frequently having to rely on the parish for relief…a pauper. Living with him in the house was his wife Mary, and 3 of his sons, John , Isaac and Jacob.

Isaac and Jacob had moved out of the village, they had travelled further afield in an attempt to find employment, but also things weren’t quite right in the household. Left at home  with his elderly parents was 38-year-old John.

Three weeks prior to this horrific incident John had started to suffer from some sort of mental illness, ‘brain fever’ as the doctors referred to it, he was being looked after by Mr Adam Stapleton Puckett, a local medical officer. John was confined to his room, where he would pace round and round endlessly, ranting and raving.


Things had got so dire in the house, and John’s behaviour was becoming more and more erratic, that a decision was made by the doctor that it would be better if John was removed to the Union. He had attacked his brothers, nearly killing one of them in the process. His parents out of fear for their own safety had removed anything from their home that could be used as a weapon by their rapidly unravelling son, guns, knives, saws.Image

His poor distraught mother was beside herself, she didn’t know where to turn, what to do next, who to ask for help.

Word had got around that John was now becoming a great danger to those around him, and that his family were in fear of their very lives, they needed help.

Mr Puckett was on his way to the family’s house, accompanied by Mr Zachariah White, the relieving officer, when they met John’s father, Richard. “Be you going in to take him away now?” he asked. Mr Puckett confirmed that this was the plan, that it was best for one and all. Concerned because of his son’s set of mind at that time he said “You had better not go in there or there will  be mischief,” replied Richard. Mr Puckett though tried to reassure the old man that he could handle John, he would calm him down and make him see sense. Richard though kept warning the doctor that John was in no mood to face confrontation.

Not heeding the old mans warning, Dr Puckett entered the cottage alone. Mr White had asked Richard to go and ask for the use of a horse and cart to transport John to the Union house, but seeing as the old man had a job to shuffle along a few feet let alone go down the road, he decided that it would be quicker of he went himself, and off he set towards the Ship Inn.

Richard went and sat on the doorstep of his house. Inside, peering anxiously through the bedroom doorway, he could see his son arguing with the good doctor. He was not just arguing, he looked positively possessed, like a wild man, greatly agitated, shouting, on his writhing body he wore no more than a shirt . By now Richard was anxious that things were not going well, he slowly raised his creaking body from the step and stumbled off down the road to find help, but there was no one around to help bar a group of frightened women who were huddled together torn between  human curiosity to gawp and fear of violence.

In that time things had deteriorated badly…John had ripped the bedhead from its position, and lunged towards the doctor, who realising that he was in imminent danger raced for the door as fast as he could. Once outside Dr Puckett held fast to the door handle as the enraged John shook it, beat it, and tried to make his escape, he wanted blood. John then turned his anger towards the window, smashing the glass, but couldn’t get out that way, it had bars in front of it.

Seeing his chance, Dr Puckett let go of the handle, turned, and fled down the path, but John was quick!..he was out of the door in a flash, right behind the fleeing doctor. Raising his hand above his head, he smashed the large piece of wooden frame down on his victims skull, knocking him straight  to the ground.

When Richard returned back to the house a few minutes later, he looked over the fence and saw the prone body of Dr Puckett laid on the grass in front of the house, but he was still breathing thank goodness.

John  was stood, extremely agitated, breathing swiftly, sweat poring down his angry, contorted face, he was just a few yards away from the victim, when his father asked him what he had done, he yelled at him to go away “if I did not go, he would serve me the same..'” with that, he picked a large stone up and threw it at his father.

John rushed into the nearby fuel house, desperately searching for something…but he couldn’t find it, what he did find though, would serve his purpose just as well.

Coming back out into the daylight, the light reflected of the sharp teeth of the lethal wood saw that John now held aloft in his hands.

Swiftly crossing over to the unconscious body of the fallen doctor laying on the grass, to his fathers horror, he made three quick deep slashes with the deadly saw, and the doctors head silently rolled away from his body…with that John picked the bloodied skull up in his red stained hands   and threw it out into the road. In his subsequent statement John claimed that when he had cut the doctors head off “the old bastard gurgled,” and when he had tossed it into the road “his old head sounded liked a damned old pumpkin.“. Not content with that he then proceeded to dismember the mans corpse, throwing each grisly piece out into the road.

Witnessing this ugly and brutal attack were some of the village women. Jane Galpin, who lived two doors up, had been passing by when she witnessed the doctors frantic struggle to hold the door shut and could hear the hysterical ravings of John behind the door. When the window smashed, and John had raced out of the open door after the doctor, Jane fled for the safety of a neighbours house, where the women locked the door behind them, screaming for help, trembling with fear…who was this mad man going to murder next? Peering out of the window, unable to look away,  the women witnessed his horrific dismembering of the body.

Another witness to the bloody aftermath was John Ford, who worked as an engine man in the Weymouth waterworks at the bottom of Sutton Poyntz. Zachariah White had run to get a body of men to help restrain the raving fellow, and had headed for the works where he knew there would be men working. John Ford accompanied the group back up through the village to the scene of blood and dismembered body parts. Here they gathered in the severed limbs, putting them together inside the garden fence. Their next job was to find John.

He had vanished!

John had made his way, blood soaked and half naked, towards Osmington. On his journey through the country lanes he came across and startled Joseph Dowden who was out working in his garden. John told him quite calmly what he had done, asking Joseph for his help, and protection from anyone who might try to harm him. Thinking on his feet, Joseph took the by now, much calmer John into the stables of the Plough Inn at Osmington, owned by Mr Notley, where he managed to hold him until help came in the form of the local police.

The inquest on the dreadful death of Dr Puckett was held at  the Ship Inn, Preston.

John Cox was convicted of “Wilful murder,” mindful of the fragility of his tortured mind he ended up in the recently opened Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum.





Writing a book, blog, short stories or your own family history, then why not make them jump off the page, bring them to life with historical graphics.
I have a huge collection that cover illustrations from numerous Victorian articles about travel, prisons, children’s homes, poverty, philanthropy…
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1864; Sutton Poyntz and wedding celebrations.

The surrounding areas to Weymouth were and still are prime farm land, and as such they had been worked throughout the centuries.

In the Victorian era, and of course before even then, rural life was very much divided into 2 groups. You had those who had the lot… land, money and prestige…and then those who had very little! The harshness of the life of a simple farm labourer and his family often depended on how well his boss and often landlord, treated them.

Such was the case for the village of Sutton Poyntz.


John Allen Pope, along with his wife Mary were the proud owners of Sutton Farm, (part of the vast Weld estate) working a total of 1950 acres of land in and a round Sutton Poyntz, which pretty much covered the whole area. The wealthy couple  had a large family, 7 sons and 4 daughters.

On the 9th June 1864 the bells of the village church in Preston rang out their joyful peals.

Their notes of merry ringing carried down through the valley, they marked the marriage of two of John and Mary’s daughters.


Charlotte, aged 22 was being wed to 25-year-old Thomas Hill, a gentleman, whose parents worked Came farm, and 27-year-old Harriet was marrying another Winterbourne Came resident and gentleman farmer , 37-year-old William Frank Ellis. Rather oddly, the banns for Harriet and Williams marriage had been called over a year earlier in the parish of Winterbourne Came.

This was to be  a day of joy and fun for the farm labourers too, they were not to be left out of  the families plans for the happy celebrations. Nearly 90 workers and their families were invited to the farm to raise a glass to the happy couples. At five o’clock they all sat down to a real feast, and afterwards one and all were treated to what was euphemistically referred to as ‘strong beer’ , and for those that smoked a pipe, it was tobacco all round. Of course, no country wedding, rich or poor,  would have been without it’s stirring music and dancing. The youngsters, and probably more of the mature revellers enjoyed the lively musical entertainment, many going on to have “tripped the light fantastic toe.” 

The family and the labourers celebrated side by side, the two newly married daughters mingling with one and all at their wedding feast day, it appears that a great deal respect was mutual on both sides of the divide.

Festivities went on until darkness fell, when one by one the families staggered their way home to their cottages, filled with good food, ale and great cheer.

Both women, along with their husbands were destined to leave for pastures new, a life in South Africa.


If the name Pope rings a bell, that’s for a very good reason.

Two of John and Mary’s sons brought into an established  Dorchester brewery, which at the time was named  Eldridge, Mason & Co, soon to be renamed Eldridge Pope. A decade or so later, the brothers purchased the site neat to the station at Dorchester, which became the large brewery that was familiar to one and all. The overpowering aroma of the hops in the air would be unmistakable as you climbed down from the train.


 © Copyright Dr Neil Clifton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Alas, that giant of a local brewery now gone, the

buildings redeveloped into luxury apartments, a cinema, shops and restaurants.

Such is life!


Writing a book, blog, short stories or your own family history, then why not make them jump off the page, bring them to life with historical graphics.
I have a huge collection that cover illustrations from numerous Victorian articles about travel, prisons, children’s homes, poverty, philanthropy…
Check out my Etsy site for Victorian illustrations, many more, including local ones being added all the time from my own personal collection.